I recently spoke to a young girl who had just returned from Paris. She was still very impressed after seeing the local sights, especially after visiting the Louvre. I was impressed with the harvest there. Although she hadn’t been able to see everything during the short stay, the small part she saw made her imagination run wild. Her previous idea of the splendor of European and world art museums is confirmed, on which Polish museums look completely pale.
Indeed, it is difficult to find arguments that could change this and similar opinions. Polish groups are certainly more modest than those created by our other neighbors and our distant neighbors. There are many answers to the question of why this is so. First, in Europe since the first centuries, monarchies were ruled by rulers who were no strangers to conquest and pillage, as evidenced by Spain’s destruction of the ancient civilizations of the New World. The looting campaigns robbed the gold and other valuable goods from the local population. They gave the conquistadors, or conquistadors, if you prefer, infinite riches, which supplied not only the Spaniards, but also the Portuguese treasuries. The development of shipping made it possible for the conquistadors to reach the farthest corners. It allowed to acquire new lands, as well as transport goods from there to Europe by sea.
Growing colonial powers required a favorable situation, and nothing emphasized the greatness of rulers more than opulent palaces, magnificent fortifications, churches, museums, and the widely understood arts. This was sponsored mostly by the most powerful world of the time, satraps, emperors, enlightened patrons, popes, dogs, wealthy merchants, etc. In fact, not much has changed since then – art still requires money. Without them, it would be difficult to think about building and maintaining a high-rise Gothic cathedral or a neoclassical palace with a garden. You need money for all of this, and in many similar cases it was about crazy amounts. Not every royal treasury can provide them. Already in ancient Egypt, Greece and the Roman Empire, grandiose temples in honor of the deities, palaces, thermal baths, baths and fountains did not spare money. Many expenditures often forced its founders to borrow from wealthy aristocrats, merchants, and bankers. Today, we would not be able to admire the remnants of the Roman Empire without the funds that allowed us to create them. Magnificent monuments, triumphal arches, columns, carvings, frescoes, frescoes, and all the riches of the ancient empire were made with money. It is the will of rulers, founders, decision makers and money that lies at the heart of art and culture. It is a fairly simple and obvious fact that art and culture require money.
Of course, other factors were and still are just as important at that time: engineering knowledge, knowledge of art rules, and the talent of artists and builders. The largest undertakings, such as the Egyptian pyramids, the buildings of ancient Greece and Rome, the Colosseum, or the temple of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul today, founded by Justinian I, for being the finest and most important example of Byzantine architecture – all required big money.
Here we find the answer to one of the questions – why did not so much cultural objects and works of art appear in former royal Poland and later in Poland as in Western and Southern Europe? For centuries, Poland has battled enemies, both at home and abroad. Rococos, lodges, and armed revolts were not uncommon. Sibling wars, such as the wars of Rokosz Lubomirski (1665), destroyed the treasury and impoverished the country. The Polish rulers faced a choice – should they spend the money on the army and defense or rebuild the country, or on art? The democratic position of the nobility was not conducive to the “strange” spending on culture made by the rulers at the time. The invasions of the Turks, the Mongols and the Swedes destroyed our country. The latter, withdrew, burned the churches and destroyed everything that was of any value to the Poles. Cultural objects have been burned, blown up, or otherwise destroyed.
While wars and divisions favored a policy of plunder towards Poland, our enemies grew richer. Wall empires grew and their coffers became rich enough to finance the culture as well. Its importance for the nation was also well understood by the aggressors of the twentieth century: the Germans and the Russians, who, after the attack on our country in 1939, deliberately destroyed or stole things valuable to the Poles and took them home. It is difficult to estimate the losses we have suffered as a result of these barbaric actions. Estimating losses is not easy, because it is not just about physical goods. How do we blow up thousands of destroyed homes, churches and monuments? Estimating the casualties is even more difficult. How would you rate the loss of a large part of the brutally murdered elite, including many artists? No country in Western or Southern Europe has experienced the hostile regimes mentioned above: communism and Nazism.
We were able to recover some lost works thanks to the efforts of state institutions, historians, research centers and individuals who care about culture and preserve it for future generations. A good example is the work of Leonardo da Vinci, the only one in Poland – a lady with Ermine. The Polish state recently bought the business with the remaining Czartoryski group. During the German occupation, the painting roughly shared the fate of thousands of other works stolen by the Germans in occupied Poland. Fortunately, it stayed with us and we can now enjoy it in its many cultural and physical aspects. Having a collector’s “rarity” like this is a huge prestige for us. It is a real treasure with an insurance value of hundreds of millions of euros.
The painting was painted around 1483-90 by the great Leonardo da Vinci in Milan. Although there is no dispute as to who was depicted – she is Cecilia Gallierani, mistress of Duke Ludovico Sforza and regent of the governor of Milan since 1494, the animal that this lady keeps and beats remains a contentious issue. Definitely not a weasel, let alone a weasel. It is also not a seal that can be brown or white in winter, which was reported by art experts who don’t know much about European predators of the canine family. Both the first and second animals are much smaller than shown in the photo. Ludovica was called Ermelino, which means ermine in Italian. He was also a Knight of the Order of Ermine. Showing Cecilia with a hawk seal was probably meant to indicate that she was Ludovic’s lover, perhaps that was just a coincidence. Anyway, it’s not fur, as this is much smaller than the fur in the photo. So, what is the world’s most famous four-legged furry? It is most likely a mongoose (Mustela botorius foro). It belongs to the mustel family, and is a domesticated type of coward. Today it is a popular pet, although it can be stressful, which I tried myself. In addition, I had to break the dance floor in the room, as this cute creature did with pleasure.
Well, that’s how we went smoothly from the great culture and art to the mongoose and its droppings …